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Keith Vaz: The hon. Gentleman is right. He reminds me that when my family came to this country in 1965, when I was nine, as first generation immigrants, we settled in his constituency. My mother retrained as a teacherher qualifications from the then South Yemen and originally from India were not acceptedat St. Mary's college in Strawberry Hill, which is another example of a higher education institution that attracts people from all over the world. The hon. Gentleman is right about visa fees. I stress that people do not mind paying fees if they get the service. They resent having to pay a fee if the service they get is badas it is, I am sorry to say, in the immigration and nationality directorate.
The proposals will place enormous power in the hands of entry clearance officers. A couple of years ago, under the inspirational chairmanship of the right
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hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith), the Constitutional Affairs Committee went to the sub-continent to consider immigration appeals from source. The Committee produced an excellent report, in which we considered the quality of decision making. The Prime Minister, the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland and I believe that it would be bad to take away the right of appeal. It would place more and more power in the hands of entry clearance officers. That is fine when they can make high-quality decisions that are justifiable and can be defended. Let us consider, for example, Carol Doughty, director of visa services in New Delhi. If there is a problem with which UK Visas cannot help and the appeal process does not work, one can ring Carol Doughty and get a good decision.
On the other hand, I have only three cases in Islamabadall 20,000 of my other cases are with Indiaand one can never get through to an entry clearance manager in Islamabad and Karachi. I cannot understand why more of my hon. Friends who represent constituencies with many Pakistani-origin cases do not complain more. One has to get up at 5 am to speak directly to an entry clearance director, who spends her entire time telling you how awful the system is and that she needs more resources.
If we take away the right of appeal, we place power in the hands of unelected decision makers. That encourages us to go to the Minister for Immigration, Citizenship and Nationality and the Minister with responsibility for entry clearance. The work load of Ministers, not adjudicators, who will not be able to determine the cases, will increase under the proposals. We will be ringing Ministers all the time, asking for overturns because the system does not give us the right of appeal.
I want to end with one example of what happens in a system that has no right of appeal. This afternoon, a constituent telephoned me because his nine-year-old nephew had come to visit him from South Africa. The nephew is of Indian origin and his name is Yash Patel. He arrived at terminal 1 of Heathrow airport and was refused admission because the immigration officers believed that there was not a sufficient programme of activities for the nine-year-old during his visit to his uncle in Leicester. They thought that he would spend all his time at the hairdresser's shop owned by his aunt. The immigration officers also felt that it was wrong for him to come to this country because his parents are very poor and the officers wondered how he could afford the ticket.
The boy has been at Heathrow airport for most of the day. I telephoned the office of the Minister for Immigration, Citizenship and Nationality. As usual, it provided a fantastic service and I pay tribute to the Minister's private office for its work. Staff gave me the phone number of the chief immigration officer. I spoke to chief immigration officer No. 1, who passed me to chief immigration officer No. 2, who would not overturn the decision. He said that he could not make the decision and he passed me to the deputy director at IND who deals with such cases. I rang her twice. On both occasions, her mailbox was full and I could not get through.
Luckily, given that we are discussing Second Reading of the Immigration, Asylum and Nationality Bill, I bumped into my old friend, the Minister. I told him
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about my problem and he behaved sympathetically. He got on to his private office and the deputy director at IND rang my office. I am pleased to say that the young boy has been allowed to stay, not for the original period that he wanted to stay for his holiday, but for two weeks on temporary admission.
There is no right of appeal against refusal for temporary admission. We have to ring all those offices and get the Minister involved to deal with those cases. I do not make a personal attack on individuals in the system, who work extraordinarily hard. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for International Development, who is rightly respected and admired in the Asian community in this country for his work. However, I stress to him, the Home Secretary and other hon. Members that we are dealing not with asylum seekers but with our constituentspeople who are settled in this country and are equal citizens to us.
Although I cannot find any hon. Member who will vote with me against the Bill tonightmy rebellion therefore ends when I finish speakingI urge the Minister in his winding-up speech to give me the assurances that we need to show us that the Government are seized of the issues and that there will be genuine progress to ensure that we have the necessary safeguards to protect our citizens' rights.
Alistair Burt (North-East Bedfordshire) (Con): It is always a pleasure to listen to the hon. Member for Leicester, East (Keith Vaz). He was worried that his instinct to vote against the Bill was not shared by his colleagues or by anyone else in the House. He also gave a lucid explanation of one or two aspects of the Bill that he found wrong. The hon. Gentleman is not noticeably shy, and he has always stood up for causes that others, particularly in his own party, have abandonedthe euro and the European constitution, for exampleso I think that he ought to go with his instinct on this occasion and force a vote, although my own Whips might not want me to say that.
I appreciate having this chance to comment on the Bill. I particularly welcome the powers in clause 39 to extend monitoring operations to cover the escort services. I am concerned that the Bill is otherwise defective, however, in that it does not provide sufficient protection for detainees from arbitrary decisions. I am also worried that the Home Secretary has given his guarantee that the provisions of the Bill are compatible with the European convention on human rights. I shall query whether such a guarantee is appropriate in relation to some of the detainees who are facing return to places such as Zimbabwe.
I had not intended to speak today, but events connected to Zimbabwean detainees in Yarl's Wood in my constituency over the past three weeksand particularly over the past 24 hourshave left me appalled at the way in which some of their cases are being handled. I want to make it clear to the House, and to the Minister, where I am coming from on this issue. I represent Yarl's Wood, and I take very seriously my relationship with those who work there and those who pass through. I try to understand the asylum policy that we apply and, by and large, I support the principles behind it, as the Minister is aware. If a person has been
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properly represented and has gone through all the appeal processes and been adjudged to be not an asylum seeker but someone who needs to be returned, the policy must require that return, if it is to mean anything.
I have defended such a system, and I have defended my constituents who work at Yarl's Wood in difficult circumstances to make that policy work. However, my defence of that system was based on a sense of justice and decency, and I am now beyond defending it and the decisions of those who are behind it. Their cavalier treatment of the vulnerable people in their care is a scandal to our reputation as a decent nation.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Haltemprice and Howden (David Davis) spoke earlier of how the Government had let people down over the years. He mentioned briefly their proposal in 2001 to increase the number of removals. That was when my change of heart began in relation to this policywhen I found out that Yarl's Wood was built on fraud. In November last year, the Prison Service ombudsman published his report on the 2002 fire at Yarl's Wood, in which some 300 people avoided death purely by chance. That report exposed the fraudulent nature of Yarl's Wood's origins. It was built to enable the Government to meet a target of 30,000 removals a year, a commitment given in their 2001 election manifesto and on the Floor of the House by the then Home Secretary, the right hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw).
It transpired from the ombudsman's report, however, that that target was nonsense. No one responsible in the Home Office or the immigration service believed in it. How did the Home Secretary come to rely on such a figure? As the report made clear, it was because the officials who challenged it were told that they were "troublemakers", and "not one of us". "Reasoned debate", said one senior figure, chillingly, "was forbidden". Immediately after the election, the new Home Secretary was informed that the target was undeliverable. Is it credible that it became undeliverable during the course of an election campaign, and that the Home Secretary did not know this? Frankly, no. It was either incompetence or deceit; the House must make up its own mind. In the rush to achieve that nonsensical target, an inadequate fire trap was built, in which people worked and were detained until it burnt down in minutes after being set on fire in a wicked act of arson perpetrated by persons unknown.
The revelation of the story, chronicled in full in the ombudsman's report, and the shameful failure of the Government to apologise for what had happened, or to counter the statement that reasoned debate about the targets was forbidden, profoundly changed my perception of the asylum system and those who were behind it. It offends my sense of justice not to see put right the things that were wrong. But that is history, although it has a bearing on the matters before us today.
Let us come up to date. I am pleased that the Bill will extend powers of inspection to the escort services that take detainees to ports of departure. I should like to illustrate the kind of incident that the new monitoring service should look at. Three weeks ago, I met a Zimbabwean detainee who alleged that she and two others had been assaulted by the escort service taking them to the airport in pursuance of an order to remove
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them. She had been temporarily released, but had learned that one of the others, who was scheduled to have an X-ray at Bedford hospital, was being removed a few days before the appointment, and before the completion of the inquiry into the alleged assault in which she had been both a victim and a witness. That seemed strange, but not unusual. I had a written question answered by the Minister yesterday, in which I had inquired how many people who had made a complaint about the escort services were removed before the investigation had been completed. I was told that the answer could not be provided, because to do so would take up inordinate resources. So that recent incident cannot have been all that unusual.
Problems with the escort services are not uncommon. They have a very difficult job to do. Those who do not want to leave the United Kingdom can make life very hard for the people whose job is to carry out the order. If those scheduled to return resist physically, it must be lawful to use reasonable force to get them to comply. But the problem can be seen immediately. What is reasonable force in those circumstances, particularly in the highly charged circumstances of a removal? And if allegations and cross-allegations are made, who is to judge what has happened if there is no independent witness?
I, and other MPs, have taken this matter to the Home Office before. On a visit to Yarl's Wood about a year ago, I was shocked by the vehemence of the women detainees when the question of the escort services was raised. There were too many accounts of casually inflicted violence and verbal abuse to dismiss out of hand. And while I understood very well how difficult it could be to move a powerful woman resisting removal, the majority of African and Asian women at Yarl's Wood are not big people, and they were never in a one-to-one situation. It was obvious who would come off best in a physical confrontation.
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